Sunday Musings: Retirement Thoughts

Al Thomas, author of the well known book “If It Doesn’t Go Up, Don’t Buy It,” wrote an interesting column a couple weeks ago on the subject of retirement, which offers some food for thought:

PLANNING TO RETIRE

The first question is when? Second question is will I have enough money? And third question is what will I do?

Maybe you are one of the smart ones and you have all those questions answered. Very few folks do.

When might not be up to you. Your company may have a mandatory retirement age and you will get the proverbial gold watch and a pat on the back. The door is over there.

Maybe you have your own business and can decide when to lock the door or sell it (if you can in today’s market). Most people who are self employed don’t want to “retire”. They want to slow down and take an extra long vacation. People in business like what they are doing and don’t want to quit.

I tried quitting once, but 2 years later I formed another company and was back at it again. No more sandy beaches for me. I like the sound of the phone ringing and the computer humming.

That second question is a tough one. Almost 80% of those who reach retirement age have not had the discipline to invest enough for that sandy beach. If their health is good they might be able to reside in one of our South American neighbors.

Panama will allow residency to anyone with an income of $600 per month. And you can live on that down there.

Stock brokers say you need about a million dollars to retire and live comfortably. That’s another thing stockbrokers don’t know. You can do very well on a lot less. Now that you don’t have to report to work every morning what are you going to do with yourself? Golf every day? Too old for mountain climbing. The beach every day?

Here or in Panama. Now you have everything around the house fixed. Gosh, it gets boring. Your spouse isn’t going to be happy with you cluttering up the landscape 24/7. Having money makes it easier to get away.

Most old geezers look for charity work. Volunteering is big with retirees. It isn’t very challenging. But there are many good causes that need help. Some people seek another job. Other folks need it to make their minimums.

Companies today prefer to hire older workers because us old geezers understand the work ethic. Kids (under 25) haven’t learned it yet. This current period of harder times is beginning to make believers of them.

Education doesn’t matter now. There are PhDs flipping hamburgers. A skilled tradesman has a better chance of getting or keeping a job in this competitive market.

If you are planning to retire you better have a plan. Very few approach retirement with any idea what they are going to do or how they will make it financially.

While the financial aspect of retiring is a whole discussion by itself, I want to share some of my observations of “what to do.” As people approach retirement, some seem to only have a very vague idea as to how to keep life interesting by using the extra time while others struggle to find meaning.

The usual answer I get upon asking the “what to do” question is ‘cleaning out the garage,’ or ‘playing golf’ every day. OK. Now fast forward a few months.

You have cleaned out the garage, sorted your tools by purchase date and arranged all nails not only by length but also by weight and degree of rust. You edge your lawn twice a day and check your pool chemicals at least 3 times. You participate in the regular visiting of your grand children and by now could write an essay on how to avoid getting puked on.

Unless, you are fascinated by and deeply interested in a hobby or other subject, life takes on a boring tone. Not helping is your wife, who probably by now has told several times that she married you for better or worse, but not for lunch.

If you’ve been there, you know that I am not making this up. A few years ago, one of the newspapers here in Southern California put together a small fair intended to provide some job opportunities for seniors. The place was flooded by thousands of retirees looking for an opportunity to spend time with work related activity.

Many follow up stories revealed that while some indeed needed the money the majority did not. The overriding theme was that most were looking for meaning in life and/or wanting to contribute.

In the end, work is not all bad, as long as it’s something you enjoy. One of my readers, a 75 year old urologist, called me a couple of weeks ago and said that he was quite distraught about the possibility that he may have to stop working next year.

I have an 87 year old friend, who plays tennis four times a week. Upon my inquiry, he mentioned that he is so busy with his work projects that he is adding space to enlarge his home office. Wow, does he not see the end in sight?

The ultimate reward for being a passionate worker has to go to Richard Russell, who writes the Dow Theory letter. He is in his 90s and has written the newsletter since 1955. Talking about making a contribution…

My point is that being involved in a passionate endeavor, whatever that may represent to you, can provide your life with meaning and give you satisfaction by being able to contribute. Without it, it can be a hard, long and lonely road.

Maybe we should all take a lesson from woman retirees. For the most part, they don’t seem to have the issues most guys do and appear to slide into their new role with much less effort.

I like to hear about your experiences. Click on the comment button below and share your thoughts.

About Ulli Niemann

Ulli Niemann is the publisher of "The ETF Bully" and is a Registered Investment Advisor. Learn more
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